Nelson White’s Art Show Tukien (Awaken) Now Open at Grenfell Gallery

“Round Dance” by Nelson White
“Round Dance” by Nelson White


“Knowing” by Nelson White featuring Meagan Musseau
“Knowing” by Nelson White featuring Meagan Musseau

Wouldn’t we all like, in some small way, to be the subject of the artists gaze? To be reimagined through a unique lens and brought to new life as a piece of art or poetry or song?

Nelson White’s new art show Tukien (awaken) brings that lens of reimagining to familiar faces from home, to everyday people we know and love. In this portrait collection, we see locals Dave White, Michelle Cormier, Cal White, Jordan Bennett, Ivan J. White, Gregg White, Melissa Trembley, Aiden Ash Penwaq, John Nick Jeddore, Joanna Barker and Meagan Musseau among the 18 indigenous people represented.

I caught up with Nelson at the St. George’s Community Garden for a chat about Tukien, which is currently on display at Grenfell College in Corner Brook, and about his life as an artist.

“The faces in this collection represent the many ways that strong indigenous people are leading and impacting community” he said, “we are many things and I wanted to reflect all of who we are. These (portraits) are some of the cool, interesting, and intelligent people I know. People in my circle. A circle that continued to widen as the portrait project became a show.”

“Regalia Maker” by Nelson White featuring Michelle Cormier
“Regalia Maker” by Nelson White featuring Michelle Cormier

Nelson also said he wanted to showcase people in a way that defies stereotypes. For instance, the collection includes a portrait of a woman in RCMP officer’s attire. It is titled “Regalia Maker,” turning the stereotype of what a regalia maker should look like on its head.

Tukien opened in Corner Brook on August 14, ahead of other locations in Atlantic Canada, something that was important to Nelson. “Because it’s home. It’s where my family and friends can see it. The people who are in the show can see it and be proud.”

The show will eventually move on to other galleries and locations planned in Atlantic Canada.

The Smithsonian!

“Veteran Elder” by Nelson White featuring Elder Elsworth Oakley
“Veteran Elder” by Nelson White featuring Elder Elsworth Oakley

Nelson is visiting home (Flat Bay) for a few days and will return to St. John’s on Sunday. He’s a bit of a local celebrity here following news of his artwork being placed on permanent display at the Museum of the American Indian in the Smithsonian.

Indeed, a garden neighbour asked me later, “was that the Nelson White?”

Nelson commented on the success of this portrait, “I had no idea this would be such a big deal! It really kind of snowballed,” he added “I’m grateful to have my work accepted at this level.”

Elder Elsworth Oakley, from Massachusetts and living in Eskasoni, is the subject of the piece that has garnered national and international attention. Nelson explained, “Elder Oakley signed up for the marines at 17 years old. He served in Korea and is proud of his service. He’s one indigenous veteran of so many and for me, his face tells a story.”

Nelson hopes that this is just the beginning of greater eastern Canadian indigenous artist representation at the Smithsonian.

On Being an Artist

Nelson White at the St. George’s Community Garden, Friday, August 14, 2020
Nelson White at the St. George’s Community Garden, Friday, August 14, 2020

“I decided a few years ago that it was time to make space for being an artist.” Nelson had always been an artist but explained that he had never really taken it seriously. “It was time to do this professionally and do it right.”

Nelson changed careers to take a job that was less demanding and created less stress in his life. The move opened the door for his creative energy to flow and he has been steadily developing as a known artist. When I asked him what he would recommend to young artists, he had this to say.

“Learn the business side. Learn what they don’t teach you in art school. Being an artist takes more than just making and selling art. Artists should consider grant writing, marketing, online features, artist talks and other ways to be successful as an artist.”

Visit Tukien at Grenfell



10-4, Tuesday to Saturday (by appointment)
Make an appointment online now

To view the portraits from Tukien online, please visit



Story by Alison White (, on behalf of Qalipu First Nation.